Monday, May 08, 2006

Wilkes...The Gift That Keeps Giving

The Los Angeles Times gives us a long profile of Republican’s cash machine, Brent Wilkes. Wilkes, a.k.a. Cunningham co-conspirator No.1, figured out how to take advantage of the new rules that the Republican congress of corruption put in place. Most of the piece covers ground that has been covered in other print articles, but the linkage between Wilkes, Mitchell Wade (co-conspirator No. 2) and other members of Wilkes’ corrupt enterprise (Bill Lowery, Kyle Foggo, etc.) all get additional attention.

Perhaps the most telling passage in the article refers to a stunt pulled by Cunningham and another member of Team Wilkes, Representative Jerry Lewis (CA-41) at Wilkes behest.

…in July 1999, co-conspirator No. 1 (Wilkes) faxed Cunningham "talking points" on how to bully a Pentagon manager into releasing more government funds. These documents were included in Cunningham's sentencing hearing.

The memo instructed the lawmaker to demand that the Defense Department official shift money from another program to cover funds designated for ADCS. "We need $10 m[illion] more immediately," Cunningham was to tell the official.

If the official didn't cooperate, Cunningham was to say his next calls would be to two high-ranking Pentagon officials. The script called for Cunningham to add: This is very important and if you cannot resolve this others will be calling also" — two names in this passage are blacked out in the memo. Despite Cunningham's threats, the Pentagon manager was unmoved, according to grand jury testimony.

A week later, Cunningham and Lewis called a Washington news conference to announce that they had slashed $2 billion in funding for the F-22 Raptor fighter jet, one of the Pentagon's prized programs, citing cost overruns. Both congressmen had been key supporters of the project, and their comments shocked Pentagon

Within days, the same Pentagon manager who had been resistant to Cunningham's appeals sent the congressman a list of other programs where money could be "reallocated" to Wilkes' firm, according to court documents. "The Defense Department spends $1 billion a day, so the [Wilkes] contract was like a rounding error. It just wasn't worth putting our big programs at risk," a senior Pentagon official said on condition he not be identified.

I guess this is how the system works. Wilkes get rich, Cunningham gets rich, Lewis get big contributions that allow him to retain his powerful position in congress. And in return, all they have to do is sell out their country.